It’s raining in the Mara; it should be: That’s not news. It’s not raining in northern Kenya; it shouldn’t be: That’s news. Go figure.
In between truly cataclysmic reports of America’s political constipation last week, many news sources were reporting on the “calamitous” drought in “East Africa.” One concerned consumer emailed me:
“My husband and I are scheduled to go on safari to [East Africa] in 3 weeks and are very concerned since hearing stories of devastation and the death of wildlife due to the drought. We are insured for the trip. Do you recommend we cancel and visit another time when conditions are improved? We have spent an awful lot of money and don’t want to spend 2 weeks in a dustbowl viewing dead and dying animals.”
My office explained it was raining in the Mara. The excellent Governor’s Camp there reported 85.5 mm of rain in June (3.37 inches), a little less than normal, but nothing to write home about.
There are three important issues here.
First, “East Africa” is a big place. When you include all of Somalia, as NPR did in its weekend reporting, the area is nearly the size of half the continental U.S.
There’s a drought in America. There are devastating tornadoes in America. Floods are killing people in America. Wild fires are forcing people out of their homes in America.
Dare you visit the Blues Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont?
Columbia University’s excellent climate reporting website shows the actual precipitation over the last twelve months. (To get the “loop” actually looping, you may have to click on “Precip Loop” in the left-hand blue panel.)
When corroborated with many other similar data sources, what we know is that overall “East Africa” has a pretty normal rain pattern for this year. Somalia and northern Kenya less than “normal” and much of the prime game viewing areas of Kenya and Tanzania normal or just slightly below.
That’s the first issue’s facts. I know in today in America facts seems to matter less and less, but I can’t seem to drop the habit of referring to them.
Second. Climate change is deeply effecting all the tropical regions of the world, including East Africa, more quickly and more extremely than in much of the world including America. This is because of the highly complex way that weather works at the equator. Even when you look up from the equator at the sky, clouds rarely move at all, the confluence of multiple jet streams and mixed up “corioloses” is one of the most complicated swirling and twirling air patterns on earth.
In a nutshell the result has been to make dry drier, and wet wetter. It’s the reason we do have “drought conditions” in northern Kenya almost constantly, interrupted by a season of devastating floods.
Three. And probably most important. The human catastrophe occurring in Somalia, northern Kenya and Ethiopia is hardly new. And the fact that it’s being reported as news is a sorry indication that we don’t care as much as we should.
Do you remember “Live Aid”? That was nearly 30 years ago. Things haven’t changed much since. Admittedly, dry is drier, and there are more people to feed, so famine is more likely and will now occur more often.
Do you remember “Blackhawk Down”? That was nearly 20 years ago. That’s when Bill Clinton let Somalia implode. It’s never come back together.
The human catastrophe in a part of East Africa is human made, not weather made. True, the desert has been growing literally for millennia from north to south on the continent, and East Africa is near the dividing line moving south. But desertification in Africa is not news, happens at a relatively slow pace and can be adequately dealt with by proper human development.
And fresh, good, potable water has been a growing catastrophe in Africa for decades. This, too, has been known for 20-30 years and there are ways to deal with it.
It is the politics of fear, egocentrism, greed and lack of compassion that has been growing at too fast a pace.
It’s raining in the Mara. You can proceed nicely on your safari.
Bravo Bravo Bravo Bravissimo.
We in the west think we have the monopoly on free information, but actually we live in a world where our information is perverted to what we expect to receive.
There have been very few famines in Africa that were not tipped over by war or conflict.
What i love most about these famines is that our governments pour billions into African ministers’ pockets in the guise of AID, knowing all along where it goes, but we are buying influence so we don’t care. Then a catastrophe comes along where AID money could do some good, and governments go quiet and individuals are supposed to fund the relief and make donations. If a fraction of aid money went towards the preventative measures you mention these famines wouldn’t happen. But we’re not interested in the people, we want the resources.
I will be talking about Aid and famine and especially security issues for the west of Africa on my upcoming new blog site which will be on the revamped http://www.fromhere2timbuktu.com to be published shortly. It will be in the line of Jim’s thinking.
today, more than ever, my feeling of helplessness prevails.my values of what is important seem so out of the norm. thanks jim for telling us facts and in so doing, give me hope. laura
Well said Jim!
Even if it rained today in Northern Kenya, it wouldn’t bring back the thousands of cattle that have already died, it wouldn’t provide overnight grazing for the few that are still alive. A famine is as about lack of food and the communities inability to feed and sustain its self than it is about whether its raining or not. Just because this humanitarian disaster doesn’t yet meet the media criteria of thousands of starving emaciated kids on our screens, it doesn’t mean it s not happening. It is. 90% of the cattle are dead and that’s the economy of the region. There is nothing to sell or trade and therefor no money for food.
People are hungry and getting hungrier.
It not just about the lack of rain.
From Jim – Gayle is right, but this blog was in response to a consumer traveling to the Maasai Mara, where there is no famine. And the next day’s blog is about Maasai protesting famine, where there is no famine (in Ngorongoro). My point is that as heartless as it seems, if you’ve traveled as a tourist or vendor to East Africa in the last two decades, you’ve been traveling while there has been famine nearby… as it is now, again, and unless global policies change, seems like will forever be. And if you travel as a tourist today to the customary game parks, you will not see famine.